Friday, 27 March 2015

Aged care caregivers, women and the 1972 Equal Pay Act - why the government wants to mess with it.

On Wednesday this last week I attended a Unions Waikato event hosting the Service & Food Workers Union and Kristine Bartlett, an aged care worker who was at the centre of the successful equal pay for women case.  She's told us about how she fell into being at the centre of the legal challenge.  An she literally didn't know what she was getting into until it all ramped up.
Maxine van Oosten, Unions Waikato co-convenor, and Kristene Bartlett.
Here is an extract from a newspaper article Win for equal pay campaign that explains some of the detail of the court process and decisions (Stuff 28/10/14):
Campaigners for pay equity are celebrating a "slam dunk" after the court dismissed an appeal against a case that could raise the wages of thousands of women across the country.
The question about whether women should be paid the same as similarly-skilled men in different industries was heard by the Court of Appeal in February.
It followed an Employment Court decision last year, which ruled in the favour of Lower Hutt caregiver Kristine Bartlett.
Bartlett, with the support of the Service and Food Workers Union, agreed to front a test case against her employer TerraNova Homes & Care.
The union also lodged a separate claim on behalf of a group of workers, arguing the Employment Court had the power under the Equal Pay Act to determine equal pay.
Bartlett argued her $14.46 hourly wage was less than would be paid to men with the same, or substantially similar, skills, arguing it was a breach of the Act.
Following the Employment Court decision an appeal was lodged and the New Zealand Aged Care Association agreed to help fund the case, arguing that while rest homes would like to pay their staff more they lacked the money to do so and the Government needed to increase is funding of the sector.
Employment law experts have predicted the case could have wide-ranging ramifications for a number of industries such as cleaners and nurses, setting a precedent that could mean higher pay for tens of thousands of female workers.
You can find out more about Kristine and the process here and here, and watch her on Campbell Live here.  You can read about what the Human Rights Commissioner has to say here and the employment court decision of August 2013 here.
In August 2014, Kristine's wage was $14.46 an hour.  It has increased slightly since, but when you consider that 20 years ago she was earning about $9.50 an hour, how valued are caregivers when they barely had a $5 wage increase over five years?  That works out at a 25c increase per year!!  Is that keeping up with inflation?  Sounds like slave labour to me.
Add this to the plight of a caregiver: there is no professional development, if any, and no career pathway for caregivers.  If a caregiver does find and do any professional development (as Kristine has), there is no reflection of this in their pay packet.  Kristine discussed the skills and roles of caregivers as something that not just anyone can walk in from a WINZ office and do.  Zero hour contracts and fluctuating hours are common, meaning that the women can not effectively budget each week and often come up short to pay rent or mortgages and other bills and often bring no lunch to work with them.
Consider this:  about the year 2000, Labour MP and Women's Affairs spokesperson Sue Moroney was working for NZNO (nurses union) and negotiating an employment contract with an aged care provider for the nurses and caregivers in the home.  The provider wanted to limit the hours each person worked a week to 30 hours.  When Sue asked why, the provided answered that it was physically demanding work and too much for an individual's body to cope with if they worked 40 hours a week.  Needless to say that clause was not accepted by NZNO, particularly in the light of the hourly wage agreed to and the fact that many caregivers are the breadwinners of their families.
So now we fast forward to 2015 and despite the fact that Kristine won this case in August 2013, and the subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court in 2014, because the caregivers don't have a national or even site wide Collective Agreement, these cargivers have not had their pay packets adjusted yet. That's still to come.  They have determined that the caregivers work should be compared to the work of Corrections officers (who earn considerably more than a caregiver).  The next step is how this will work as either a national collective or site collectives.  Naturally, aged care providers are resisting the change and they have some big help as you will see further down the page.
Sue Moroney was also at this meeting.  She explained that in 1990 the then Labour government had put legislation in to help enforce equal pay for equal work. But in 1991 National rescinded that law with their Employment Contracts Act. So this could have been sorted 25 years ago!  When asked why the Labour government of the 2000s had not corrected this, Sue explained that the Labour led government set up a working party to investigate and report back on pay equity and equal work.  This was disbanded when the current National led government took office at the end of 2008 and that work lays abandoned.  You can find out more about some relevant employment law to equal pay here.
Sue also explained that the employment court had ruled that equal pay for equal work was covered under the Equal Pay Act of 1972, and that this Act consequently means more than we had ever thought.  It's not just ensuring a woman and a man are paid the same for the same job.  It's about similar levels of work being paid equally.  It means that the Act passed by the Labour led government in 1990 and rescinded by National the following year was not needed because for nearly 42 years we have had the power to do what this recent court case has proved and not realised it.
Consequently, Labour and other organisations have become concerned with what the current National led government may do as a result of the employment court ruling and because the owners of aged care facilities have the ear of the government.  Sue Moroney has asked oral questions in Parliament about the government's intention towards the 1972 Equal Pay Act.  No straight answers have been given by relevant ministers.

So several weeks ago, she directly asked the CEO of the Ministry of Women in the formal business of the Select Committee meeting if they had been consulted on any changes to this Act.  The CEO said she couldn't answer. Translation: yes, this government wants to change the Act.
So you can see that once again the courts make a decision that is in accordance to the law of the land, John Key's government and his business cronies do not like it, so they are going to change the law, amend the Act to get their own way.  It is just like the court action won by the parents of dependent special needs adult children who look after their own kids instead of putting them into care or employing others to do so.  National changed the law on them too when the courts said that parents should be paid as caregivers to their own adult special needs children.  See the article about the court ruling here and the final budget allowance for it to happen here.
Sue believes that the best hope against blocking any amendments that the current government puts forward lays in the result of the Northland by-election.  If Winston Peters becomes the new Northland MP this weekend, and brings in a new list MP for New Zealand First, that will be a vote lost by National.  Sue believes with the strong support of elderly New Zealanders for New Zealand First that their MPs would not vote for any amendments to the 1972 Equal Pay Act as that would affect the caregivers who mainly work with elderly people.
ACT MP David Seymour will vote with National on any amendments, because, let's face it, they think the market will fix all - but we can see that 30 years of thinking like that has not helped caregivers at all.
Obviously Labour and the Greens would oppose any negative changes to the 1972 Equal Pay Act, which leaves the question of how the Maori Party and United Future would vote.  Sue said that many caregivers are Maori women who are the family breadwinners, so it would be foolish for the Maori Party to vote for amendments that would directly affect this group of workers.  Sue said that Peter Dunne had been supportive of her Bill regarding paid parental leave, so believed he could be convinced of the merits of opposing any amendments (and after all, in my opinion, Peter isn't getting any younger and is closer to needing a rest home than many other MPs, apart from Winston!).
Carol Beaumont, former Labour MP and currently working for NZNO, talked about the joint campaign for caregivers between the SFWU & NZNO on how this court ruling will be implemented.  Carol said this is a public campaign that needs the public behind the caregivers, because the public have friends and family who live or work in rest homes.   People need to talk about this - it is CAREGIVERS WEEK after all!!
She also said that people need to join unions.  If vulnerable workers like caregivers are in a union, their collective voice has power.
Since 2010 until just after New Years this year my Gran was in a rest home.  This decision was not taken lightly by my mother and her brothers and sisters, but when it became apparent that Gran was unable to look after herself independently due to dementia and the consequent ability to drive, cook and clean for herself, it was deemed the best option.  She was followed into care by her younger brother and a dear long time family friend.  Family visited them regularly and also formed bonds with the staff.
We saw great staff and not so great staff.  A factor in what makes a great caregiver is the empathy they demonstrate towards the loved one you have in a home.  They develop relationships with each person and know their likes and dislikes.  This was demonstrated to me one day with something as simple as a cup of tea.  The caregiver did not have to ask my Gran how she liked her tea; she just knew.  So Gran received a cup of black tea with no sugar.
We also knew there was not enough caregivers for the patients and work they had to do, and that they definitely weren't paid enough (staff turnover demonstrated that).  We knew because cardigans bought for Gran disappeared or Gran would be found by my Aunty on the odd morning to have not had her nighty put on the day before or her teeth would be AWOL.  When you are rushed off your feet and not valued by management, stuff like this occurs.
Kristine spoke of the heartbreak she and her colleagues have when they are unable to spend that special time with a frail patient who needs it because of the workload.  She spoke of the simple things like a hug for a dying man that meant so much to him, and to herself in the end.
But when Uncle T, then Mrs S and finally my Gran passed away, the rest home caregivers had looked after them with love, dignity and respect.  They worked with the family to the best of their ability, and mourned with us.  So we know the value of the caregivers who had found their vocation.
In my opinion anyone foolish enough to argue against equal pay for equal work is both mean-spirited and lacking in foresight.  Why would you bite the hand that feeds you (literally), and in your hour of need.
Any amendments  to the 1972 Equal Pay Act in effect puts the advances of women in New Zealand for the last 150 years back into the 1960s at least.  It shows that sexism and chauvinistic behaviours in the National party and big business and society in general are alive and well.
For caregivers not to be paid what they are worth and to not value the contribution they make to our society with how they care for one of our most vulnerable groups of citizens is appalling.  To make any changes to the 1972 Equal Pay Act to counter the win of Kristine Bartlett and the caregivers is to fail the standard as a human and against the vulnerable of New Zealand.

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